All day long, loudspeaker trucks pass through Mosul and other cities in Iraq calling people to vote. The application is attached to the Iraqi national anthem. Only the muezzin, who calls for prayer at noon, silences the voice of the young male for a moment. Just before 7 a.m., as polling stations open, patriotic music plays and continues unabated until 6 p.m., when stations close again. By that time, more than 20 million Iraqis may have cast their ballots. The number of voters who actually go to the polls will be crucial to the country’s future.
Because these parliamentary elections in Iraq, as happened in Germany two weeks ago, are a choice of direction. Change or stagnation is also the question in Mesopotamia. However, this is not primarily about climate protection, digitalization and epidemic control, but about the basics. The Iraqi political system is put to the vote. If these elections actually succeed in pushing Iraq a little further toward democracy, the country will become a beacon in a sea of despots, dictators and ayatollahs. The pressure from outside on these elections is strong in return. Interim Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has said he is closing the airport for three days and encircling his F-16 fighter jets over the cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra to ensure smooth elections, he said.
Our home, which translates to our home, is indeed a beacon. Under the ruins of the old city of Mosul on the right bank of the Tigris, a café and cultural center has become the meeting place for an alternative scene currently emerging in what was once Iraq’s second largest city. After the terrorist “Islamic State” militia controlled Mosul for more than three years, Saqr discovered the house among the rubble. “He wasn’t as badly damaged as the others around him,” says the twenty. He and his friends lovingly went to work, renovated and painted, and encouraged artists to make their mark. A small museum with antiques from the city has been set up in a room whose ceiling was badly damaged by a shell. Sakar did not want to whitewash everything. You should see what happened here, he says. Saqr created an oasis between fantasy and reality.
Around our house, slowly and very slowly, life returns to the rest of the old town. Rubble removed, some houses restored, others completely demolished because they could no longer be salvaged. Street cafes, food stalls and shops abound. Locals say Mosul’s best falafel restaurant has been revived in the city’s devastated west. A sign of departure for them. The strings of lights on the crumbling right bank of the Tigris and the colored lamps in the fountain in the evening are meant to hide the gloom of the day. Because the only thing that is currently being renovated from the ground up in West Mosul are mosques with money from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, the neighborhood remains one field of ruins.
Voters are still hesitant
Around 9 pm, our house is filled with mostly male guests. They sit and play dominoes, smoke hookah, drink sweet Turkish tea and mocha or have a drink called “Nomi Basra” – a drink made from dried black lemons that contains a lot of vitamin C. But this evening there will be intense discussions. The next day the elections and elections are on everyone’s lips. A small, non-representative poll of the guests showed that a majority would vote. However, some do not yet know who to vote for. There are different answers to the question of whether they would vote for an independent or a party candidate.
In addition to the massive approval of the new election law, which allows independent candidates for the first time, there is a suspicion that the parties will eventually buy them, and once they enter Parliament, they will give up their independence. “Many are frustrated with politics and are turning away from them,” explains one likely low turnout. Another says, but there may be a surprise. If the Shiite parties in the south lose a lot of votes and the people vote for independent candidates, then they are the kingmakers in the north. Then Mosul will have a strong opinion in Baghdad. This optimism is contagious and surprising. Because it has no equal in Iraq, Mosul has been the scene of terrorism, religious extremism, and destruction and devastation in recent years: Al Qaeda first, then ISIS.
Today, the city on the Tigris River is divided into two parts. The Left Bank, jokingly called “Rive gauche” after Paris, where the rich and famous live, has seen promising development in the past four years since the defeat of ISIS. Since the houses were not completely destroyed, as on the other side of the river, they were quickly restored and new ones were built. There are new upscale restaurants, cafes, and shops around the university. Shopping centers are being built as well as hotels. The roads are newly paved and electricity is available almost 24 hours a day, which is rare in the rest of Iraq. In Baghdad, for example, the electricity goes out every two hours and the generator has to run. On the other side of the Tigris, the contrast program. Bitter fighting raged there for eight months. There was regular house-to-house fighting, and ISIS took hold. When the jihadists were defeated in July 2017, they left scorched earth in their wake and left the few remaining Mosul feeling “never again.”
“In the beginning they did everything so that we could trust them,” says Yasmine Al-Rawi of her time under ISIS. But then they showed their true colors, reduced salaries, banned women from entering the house, required full veils, and banned alcohol and cigarettes. “When we wanted to escape, it was too late.” They no longer allow anyone out of Mosul and no one in, and they completely shut down the city. When the battle for Mosul began, the 42-year-old says, it became unbearable. “ISIS was inside the city, the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Forces were outside. We were doubly besieged,” he added.
Al-Rawi is now running for parliament in Baghdad. She wants to give a voice to those in her same situation, especially to widows whose husbands have fallen victim to a bloody battle for Mosul. She would like to give women whose husbands were ISIS sympathizers or who died as ISIS fighters a chance to reintegrate. “Of course we have to take a closer look to see to what extent their ideology is still ingrained in people’s minds.” It has already developed a program to counter the jihadist brainwashing. If you can get into Parliament, you will pray first and then try to organize a women’s ministry.
Electronic counting system as an obstacle
When the polls close, there is a lot of guesswork. The new electronic counting system should prevent unreasonable things and fraud. But in some polling stations, the assistants couldn’t handle it because they weren’t adequately trained. There is now calculated by hand. The most important question now is how the old parties performed, and whether they could consolidate their power and continue to rule. During the three-month campaign, they did everything in their power to defend their shaky positions, using dishonest tactics to win over voters and steer the vote in their direction.
The boycott announcements were numerous. Above all, members of the protest movement wanted to stay away from the polls, even though they were the ones who called for these early elections with their two-year mass protests. They obtained the resignation of the government at the time and a new electoral law that now promises great hope of changing the partisan landscape. But their main demand, which is to hold those responsible for the killing of more than 600 protesters to account, has not been met. Your fingers point to the Iranian-backed Shiite militias. But they were the ones who ran for elections. However, young Iraqis in Mosul are convinced that their generation can make a difference and that the future is theirs, even if things go very slowly at times.